Wallis Dams Raid plan shown on Antiques Roadshow

Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris wrote the above comment on a memorandum sent to him on 14 February 1943. The memo summarised the research in Barnes Wallis’s paper ‘Air Attack on Dams’ sent to Air Ministry chiefs a few days earlier. [National Archives AIR 14/595.]

In an edition of the BBC TV Antique Roadshow programme, broadcast on 19 May 2019, the grandson of a wartime army officer, Maj H F Boddington OBE brought a collection of his grandfather’s wartime memorabilia for valuation. The programme’s expert, Mark Smith, focussed on one particular file for mention during the recording. It had been given to Maj Boddington in early 1943 by Barnes Wallis, and included a copy of Wallis’s paper ‘Air Attack on Dams’.

Several copies of this paper still exist in official files, including those available to the public in the National Archives. It has 19 pages of text, including a number of tables and footnotes, and a further eight pages of illustrations, which appear to be the ones which excited Mark Smith.

A meeting with Boddington is recorded in Wallis’s diary. Boddington had been brought in to oversee security arrangements for the forthcoming RAF trials of the Upkeep ‘bouncing bomb’ and it is likely that the paper was passed over to him then.

The paper is interesting because it was written and produced by Wallis at a crucial stage in the planning for the Dams Raid. A summary of it was discussed at an important meeting at the Air Ministry on 13 February 1943, chaired by Air Vice Marshal Ralph Sorley, the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Technical Requirements). This was the meeting when it was decided to bring Bomber Command into the picture, since its personnel would be required to drop the weapon from specially adapted Lancasters, and Gp Capt Charles Elworthy, a New Zealand-born officer who would go on after the war to become Chief of the Defence Staff, was deputed to brief the command’s staff.

His first contact must have been with the Bomber Command Senior Air Staff Officer, Air Vice Marshal Robert Saundby, who then wrote a lengthy memo for his boss, the AOC of Bomber Command, Air Marshal Arthur Harris. This outlined the research and testing that had gone on so far and considered the possibility of a weapon being developed for the special purpose of destroying dams, in particular the Möhne. A specially modified Lancaster would be needed and the attack would be need to be made when the dam was full or nearly full. One squadron would have to be nominated, depriving Bomber Command of its strength for ‘two or three weeks’ for training. The tactics are not difficult, Saundby concluded, somewhat optimistically. He appended a copy of Wallis’s ‘Air Attack on Dams’ paper and sent it over to Harris.

Harris was not at all convinced. He handwrote a scathing note on Saundby’s memo:
‘This is tripe of the wildest description. … there is not the smallest chance of it working. To begin with the bomb would have to be perfectly balanced around it’s [sic] axis otherwise vibration at 500RPM would wreck the aircraft or tear the bomb loose. I don’t believe a word of it’s [sic] supposed ballistics on the surface. … At all costs stop them putting aside Lancs & reducing our bombing effort on this wild goose chase. … The war will be over before it works – & it never will.’

Wallis was not defeated by this setback, perhaps knowing that Harris himself would not have the final say on the matter. Some nine days later, he was able to show Harris the films of the test drops, but the AOC was still not impressed and sent an impassioned letter to the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal. ‘All sorts of enthusiasts and panacea-mongers are now careering round MAP [the Ministry of Aircraft Production] suggesting the taking of about 30 Lancasters off the line to rig them up for this weapon, when the weapon itself exists so far only within the imaginations of those who conceived it,’ he wrote.

Portal tried to smoothe Harris’s ruffled feathers. He accepted that the weapon might come to nothing, but it was worth conducting a trial in a Lancaster to see if it could work. Portal assured Harris: ‘I will not allow more than three of your precious Lancasters to be diverted for this purpose until the full scale experiments have shown that the bomb will do what is claimed for it.’ [Harris papers, H82, RAF Museum.]

Harris reluctantly accepted Portal’s decision, and by the end of the month the operation was given the final go ahead. Further trials were now lined up, some of which Maj Boddington may well have witnessed. One must hope that his archive – which apparently contains much other interesting material unrelated to the Dams Raid – finds a safe home if it ever leaves the care of the family.

Here is the relevant clip from the programme in a rather poor quality video grab, courtesy of Richard Taylor’s Facebook page. The full programme is available for another 21 days for UK viewers here on the BBC iPlayer.

Thanks to Dr Robert Owen.
Source: John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2012, pp49-59.

Emotional unveiling in Germany of AJ-Z memorial

Pic: MoD

Guest post by Mark Welch and Marcel Hahn

The memorial for Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay DFC and his crew of Dambuster Lancaster ED937 AJ-Z was unveiled in Emmerich am Rhein, Germany, on Friday 17 May, 76 years from the day that the aircraft was brought down by ground fire on its return from attacking the Eder Dam.

AJ-Z was the second Lancaster to attack the Eder but for some reason the Upkeep “bouncing bomb” was released too late and hit the top of the dam, detonating under the aircraft. Although undoubtedly damaged by this, Maudslay and the crew limped towards home but flew off course near the Dutch border flying over an oil installation on the banks of the Rhine, which was defended by anti-aircraft guns.

There were no survivors and all seven crew are now buried in the Reichswald Commonwealth War Graves cemetery.

L-R: Organiser Marcel Hahn, Johannes Doerwald, Mark Welch, Wg Cdr Paul Withers, Burgomeister Peter Hinze. Pic: Wim Govaerts.

The event was organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn from Germany and Mark Welch from England. They met at another memorial event a few years ago and decided to work together to ensure that the last remaining Dambuster crew had a memorial placed at the spot their aircraft came down.

Marcel said: “This was one of the most important days of our lives. I was so happy that so many people joined us. It was very emotional for us to have some members of the crew’s families here today. It is a sign of peace, cooperation and reconciliation.”

Maudslay’s niece, Victoria Trevelyan, embraced Johannes Doerwald telling him: “I don’t want you to feel guilty. I would have done exactly the same for my country if I was in the same situation.” Pics: Melvin Chambers

This sentiment was powerfully demonstrated when Victoria Trevelyan, the niece of the pilot, embraced Johannes Doerwald, who served in the gun crew which felled the aircraft, telling him “I don’t want you to feel guilty. I would have done exactly the same for my country if I was in the same situation.”

Johannes Doerwald was a 16 year old gun-layer on the night of 17 May 1943 and was credited with bringing down the aircraft. In his thought-provoking speech, Johannes said: “I still remember well the moonlit night of 16-17 May 1943, when the catastrophe at the dams happened. A four-engined bomber flew past us at low altitude towards the Möhnesee. I cannot forget the sight of this colossus. When the gunner released ‘fire’ I was so excited that I had forgotten to put the safety lever around. The machine flew so low that it collided 20 km from here with a high voltage line. Then on the return flight came Lancaster ED937. I still recall today how it was hit by the tracer ammunition. That night, 53 young people, who still had their lives ahead of them, died. Such a cruel war must not be repeated.”

Mr Peter Hinze, the Burgomeister of Emmerich, welcomed the guests in English before a speech by RAF representative Wg Cdr Paul Withers from the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem. Addressing the audience in German and English Wg Cdr Withers said:

“Henry Maudslay and his crew gave their lives attempting a difficult and dangerous mission in the hope that it would contribute to bringing to an end one of the darkest periods in European history. Since the end of the war, Europe has enjoyed relative peace and stability.”

He added: “It has done so because post-war reconciliation led to strong bonds of friendship between former enemies, aided by a strong NATO alliance. That this memorial stone has been created is evidence of the strength of those bonds of friendship and it is a fantastic tribute to the crew of AJ-Z.”

Mark and Marcel then paid tribute to each of the individual crew members before a minute’s silence was observed and the memorial stone was unveiled.

Many local people came to the event. There were also representatives from six NATO nations, including Polish Brigadier General Slawomir Zakowski, who is the Deputy Commander of the Combined Air Operations Centre. Also attending were other family relatives of the aircrew, including 86-year old Norma Bagshaw, the niece of flight engineer Sergeant John Marriott DFM and Susan Maudslay-Maguire, Angela Gardiner, Victoria Trevelyan and Nigel Maudslay, the nieces and nephew of Squadron Leader Maudslay DFC.

Wg Cdr Paul Withers, speaking on behalf of the RAF. Pic: Wim Govaerts

Norma Bagshaw, niece of Sgt Jack Marriott, laying a wreath. Pic: Wim Govaerts

Mark Welch reads a tribute to each of the crew of AJ-Z while Marcel Hahn displays a picture. Pic: Danielle Roubroeks

Marcel and Mark present Johannes with the painting Approaching the Eder by Mark Postlethwaite. Pic: Katarzyna Sidorowicz

Flg Off Robert Urquhart’s logbook displayed for the camera. The logbook is now owned by Simon Muggleton. Pic: Wim Govaerts

The crew of AJ-Z remembered on a banner. Pic: Danielle Roubroeks

Rare Gibson picture from RAF Syerston

Pic: Valerie Davies Arends

To mark tomorrow’s 76th anniversary of the Dams Raid, here is a rarely seen photograph of Guy Gibson, taken while he was Commanding Officer of 106 Squadron at RAF Syerston. It is undated, but must have been taken before 8 December 1942 as the central figure is Gp Capt Augustus Walker, CO of RAF Syerston, who lost his right arm that day on his own airfield, trying to rake burning incendiaries from an aircraft which had somehow ignited. The man on the right is Wg Cdr Richard Coad, the CO of 61 Squadron, which was also based at Syerston.

Gibson was one of those who accompanied Walker to hospital after his accident, and it was while Walker was being treated that Gibson first met Cpl Margaret North, a WAAF nurse, with whom he later had an intense but platonic liaison.

[Thanks to Valerie Davies Arends for the use of this picture.]


Mary Stopes-Roe

Pic: Barnes Wallis Foundation

I am sorry to have to announce the death of Mary Stopes-Roe, who died peacefully at her home in Birmingham on Friday 10 May.

Mary Eyre Wallis was born in York in 1927, the second of the four children of Barnes and Molly Wallis. When her father’s job at Vickers took him to Brooklands in Surrey, the family moved to nearby Effingham. Mary went away to boarding school at Godolphin School in Salisbury, and was a pupil there in the run up to the Dams Raid in 1943. Earlier she and her siblings had helped her father in his famous home experiments with marbles, a catapult and a tin bath as he tried to work out how to ‘bounce’ a bomb across water. When she heard the news about the raid itself from her headmistress she worked out what had been going on and sent a telegram to her ‘wonderful Daddy’.

After the war, Mary got a degree in history from the University of London. She then married the academic Harry Stopes-Roe, who had started his career as a physicist, but went on to take a PhD at Cambridge in philosophy. They had four children of their own, the last born in 1958 shortly before they moved to Birmingham, when he took up a post at the city’s university. Once all of her four children were at grammar school, Mary took a second degree in Psychology. ‘I thought the subject would be rather interesting, and I didn’t want to dust the house for the rest of my life,’ she said in a recent interview. She also gained a PhD and became a Research Fellow in the University of Birmingham School of Psychology where she remained until she retired in the 1990s. During her academic career she did extensive research, particularly on parent and family-child interactions, and was widely published.

After retirement she took on organising her father’s archives as well as other work on her family history. She edited the extensive pre-marital correspondence between Barnes and Molly Wallis in the early 1920s which had taken the form of a correspondence course in mathematics, but in fact was composed of dozens of charming love letters. This was published as Mathematics with Love in 2004. The archives are now housed in various institutions, and Mary herself became the President and a Trustee of the Barnes Wallis Foundation, formed to advance education in aviation design and honour her father’s name.

Mary was also very active in 617 Squadron Association affairs, and made many media appearances in the last few years talking about her father’s involvement in Operation Chastise. She will be sadly missed at future events.

Mary and Harry Stopes-Roe were married for 66 years until he died, almost five years to the day before her, on 11 May 2014. Mary leaves four children, ten grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, and also her sister, Elisabeth.

Sources: Barnes Wallis Foundation
Moseley B13 magazine